Terminator 3

On Tuesday night, we watched the Terminator 2 DVD, some sort of extended edition. After watching it, I was reluctant to see T3: I was afraid a poor sequel would mar the good feelings I had of the preceding film — the apotheosis of the 1980s manly-man-shooting-quips action movie genre — much as memory of Star Wars has been degraded by the miasma from the most recent two movies. I was especially reluctant after reading this review, which argues that the ending of T3 repudiates the philosophical underpinnings of its predecessor. But, my brother had tickets Saturday night, and we saw T3 in Bayside.

The sold-out audience was a bit sedate; I would have expected some clapping when Schwarzenegger’s name appeared, but there was no enthusiasm. Bad sign: hooting and cheering from a big crowd helps make a movie more fun. By the end of the evening, it was a fairly standard summer action movie with Terminator-like twists: car chases in Los Angeles with incidental stuff getting smashed along the way; slow motion shots as terminators emerge from smoke or fog; guns, lots of guns. T2 is perhaps one of the finest action movies ever made; its special effects, though more than decade-old, are amazingly effective. Most of all, T2 had a bright thread of humanity running through it. T3, while a pretty good action movie given the clunkers this year, will just get forgotten by the time the summer is over, or maybe before.

In T2, the thread of humanity makes the Terminator the best father John Connor ever had; it recovers Sarah Connor, who starts the film as robotic and single-minded a killing machine as the Terminator she has nightmares about, from the darkness; and it illuminates John Connor with the signs of emerging charisma that is supposed to make him a leader of men decades in the future. For the Connors, humanity comes from making moral choices, and hoping that these moral choices alter their future. And this hope for changing the future rubs off on the pre-programmed machine, so that the Terminator can make the self-sacrificing moral choice at the end to save the world. T2 is a complete story; it ends with paths wide open, and fates no longer constrained by the narrative.

In T3, this sense of moral choice changing the world is gone. Not just gone, but terminated with extreme prejudice. Pardon the spoilers, but in T3’s universe, choices have little consequence, and the future is fixed; we have a special-effects version of the old parable, “death in Baghdad” (A terrified merchant runs into a friend, and tells his friend that he’s just seen Death. He is frightened that Death is now stalking him, and tells his friend that he’s fleeing for Baghdad today; maybe Death won’t find him there. Shortly thereafter, his friend himself runs into Death, and demands that Death explains himself for frightening the merchant so badly. Death says that he himself was surprised to see the merchant in town, for he expected to meet him tonight in Baghdad.) In some sense, this is closer to T1’s world view, where time is looped, and the future is a precondition of the past. But it lacks T1’s mystery and excitement. In this sense, the aforementioned Slate review is a bit off: it’s only the underpinnings of T2 that are renounced. T3 more closely resembles T1’s Moebius strip time line.

Coincidentally, the Planet of the Apes series is on right now, speaking of movies that have come out on July 4th weekend that feature loops in time. T3 probably is more akin to the later movies of that series than to the classic first movie: just a summer movie to make some money, and nothing special except that it belongs to a strong franchise.

Update: I can’t believe I posted a serious review while Jake posts a
seriously non-review.

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